Shelter dog euthanasia numbers dropping in Virginia

Shelter dog euthanasia numbers dropping in Virginia
5-year-old Jam awaits a new home at the Richmond SPCA. Jam was transferred from Hanover County Animal Control on Feb. 10 after being surrendered by his owner. The beagle mix was treated by the in-house veterinarian at the SPCA for otitis, an inflammation of the ear canal, along with other illnesses. (Source: Eric Everington)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Euthanasia numbers of shelter dogs have decreased by 63% in the last seven years in Virginia. According to data published by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 8,173 dogs were euthanized in Virginia shelters in 2019. In 2013, the earliest data available from the VDACS, 22,049 dogs were euthanized.

Director of Communications at the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Tabitha Treloar attributes the dropping number of dog euthanasia numbers at shelters to:

  • Increased focus and availability of spay/neuter programs that have decreased births and lowered shelter intake.
  • Public interest in adoption and a growth in marketing of pet adoption.
  • Transport programs that have been implemented to transfer pets from municipal shelters to private agencies like the Richmond SPCA where animals requiring veterinary treatment will receive needed care at the Susan M. Markel Veterinary Hospital.

Animal Services Manager at Chesterfield County Animal Services Carrie Jones further attributes the shelter euthanasia number decline to a change in society’s view of animals.

“They went from personal property to part of the family,” Jones said. “People are almost attacked by friends and family if they don't adopt.”

Also, pets admitted to public shelters used to be euthanized after 30 days if they were not adopted to make space for more animals, but that practice was abandoned in 2010 according to Jones.

“We don’t euthanize for space, period. We only euthanize dogs who are too old or sick or if they are too aggressive to be rehomed. Only if it’s in their best interest,” Jones said.

CCAS only euthanizes animals if all of the staff supervisors and the veterinarian on staff agree the pet needs to be put down. If a dog has been waiting to be adopted too long at shelters in Central Virginia, they can be transferred to non-profit shelters like the Richmond SPCA.

The Richmond SPCA took in transfer pets from 65 partner shelters last fiscal year to ensure that pets find homes. The charity funded Susan M. Markel Veterinary Hospital, which is part of the Richmond SPCA is a full-service veterinary facility providing pet care at a low cost for pets of income-qualified families in the greater Richmond region and homeless animals taken in and rehabilitated by the shelter.

“Our mission is to ensure that families of all means have access to treatment options they can afford for their canine and feline companions,” said Treloar.

The Richmond SPCA waived $80,300 in fees for services to pet owners who were otherwise unable to provide treatment which saved over a thousand pets’ lives in 2019.

Treatment for homeless animals in the custody of the Richmond SPCA is provided through its Cinderella Fund. That money comes almost entirely from an event that was created 21 years ago, the Fur Ball.

The Fur Ball is held at the Jefferson Hotel each November and includes a cocktail reception with a silent auction, pet parade down the Grand Staircase, dinner, raffle and live auction. Last year it raised $570,000.

According to data released by the Petco Foundation, 264 dogs were euthanized by Richmond shelters in 2018. Six dogs were euthanized by the Richmond SPCA, four by Richmond Animal League and 254 by Richmond City Animal Care and Control. Henrico County Animal Control euthanized 296 dogs, Chesterfield County Animal Control euthanized 141 dogs and Hanover County Animal Control euthanized 116 dogs. The organization to euthanize the most dogs in Virginia in 2018 was People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

RACC euthanizes more dogs than other shelters in Richmond because it is the only open admission animal shelter in Richmond, meaning it takes in animals who are severely injured or behaviourally unsound and must be euthanized.

Richmond Animal League and the Richmond SPCA are no-kill shelters. They are private non-profit organizations that usually get the pets they shelter transferred from partnering shelters.

But this doesn’t mean that euthanasia is never performed at the Richmond SPCA. It does mean it is only performed to relieve pain and suffering, and those cases are rare.

Chesterfield County Animal Services is a limited admission shelter, meaning they take in all strays but limit owner surrenders to a case-by-case basis. CCAS will only euthanize pets if it is “in the best interest of the animal,” meaning if the dog or cat is too old or sick, or if it is too aggressive to be rehomed.

According to the Richmond SPCA, 4,091 pets' lives were saved last fiscal year. These pets were either surrendered by their owners, found stray or abandoned or transferred from partner shelters. Out of those dogs saved, 25% were surrendered by their owners, 0.6% were found stray or abandoned and 74.4% were transferred from other shelters.

According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, on Jan. 1 of 2019, 8,092 dogs were counted on hand at Virginia shelters. During the year, 110,000 dogs were brought into custody. By Dec. 31 there were 7,430 on hand in Virginia shelters. Out of the dogs brought into custody during the year, 41,000 of those dogs were found as strays, and 56% of them were reclaimed by their owners.

The biggest problem is people letting their dogs run loose without tags or identification like microchips or tattoos.

“Owners rarely come redeem found dogs because they are afraid they are going to get in trouble or they don’t want to pay the board fee,” Jones said. “We see it so much now that if they didn’t care enough to come get them, we’ll find them a better home.”

The board fee for dogs is $30 the first day and $12 per day after that at CCAS. The adoption fee for dogs through CCAS is $60. In an article published by the ASPCA, the American Pet Products Association reported approximately 3.3 million pets enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. It also states that 23% of dogs obtained by pet owners in the U.S. are from an animal shelter or humane society while 34% of dogs obtained in the U.S. are purchased from breeders.

“There’s not as many breeders as there once was; I think that people are realizing that you get more bang for your buck if you adopt,” Jones said.

Shelters like CCAS have been using social media to grow public interest in pet adoptions and to change the mentality about “dog catchers.”

“We really try to move away from the dog catcher mentality. We’re viewed as the bad guys in Disney movies and other media,” Jones said. “We’re out there rescuing dogs and cats from getting hit by cars and from starving out on the street. We’re humanizing animal control.”

Copyright 2020 WWBT. All rights reserved.